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Q&A: Zack Gross, Restoring Family Links Fellow

Zack Gross is a fellow for the Restoring Family Links program in the Los Angeles, CA chapter of the American Red Cross.

Q. Tell me a little bit about what you do as an RFL fellow. What is a typical day for you?

A. For starters, the Restoring Family Links program aims to reconnect people who’ve been separated by conflict or disaster. That means working with people who have been affected by anything from World War II, to current civil unrest, to population movements, etc. We’re just one part of a global program of every Red Cross and Red Crescent – we all work together to locate and reconnect people with their loved ones.

As a fellow, I’m more involved with outreach into our local communities so that people are aware of the services we offer. We have some very diverse and unique communities around LA, but people still often have similar stories of having lost contact with their families abroad. For instance, I will go to Holocaust Survivor meetings to promote our services. People are really touched that we provide the service free to them, and they’re sometimes eager to open a case right away.

Q. How did you become interested in this line of work?

A. It probably started when I studied abroad in Uganda for a semester. I helped with a project that worked on former child soldier rehabilitation and reintegration, assisting in life skills and empowerment. From there, I studied Violence, Conflict abd Developmentfor my master’s degree, and then worked in Rwanda for an organization that supported children born of rape during the genocide. The realities on the ground and the context of each situation meant you could never be fully prepared for something; nothing was cookie-cutter. I realized that I was curious to know how these circumstances and my knowledge would be applied domestically.

Q. What do you most enjoy about your job now?

A. Just to hear the stories of survival and strength. The personalities make it great; I’ve met so many characters and kind people.

Most of the cases I work are Holocaust-related. My own grandparents were Holocaust survivors, so it hits very close to home. They were both from Poland and sent to concentration camps in Germany – my grandmother to Bergen-Belsen and my grandfather to Dachau – but they met after the war in a displacement camp, where my dad was born. They moved to Los Angeles when Dad was four or five years old.

My grandparents never liked to talk about their story, so I kind of just had to piece things together from what I learned from my parents and whatever documents we found after they passed. I was also very close to one of my grandmother’s sister who lived in Israel. She was a survivor of Auschwitz.

I meet so many people through my RFL work who have similar stories. One time, while giving an outreach speech at Café Europa, a woman stood up and asked me if I was David Gross’ grandson.

She said “your grandfather and I were babies together in Poland!” They had literally known each other since they were children in Poland, and remet as adults in Los Angeles..

It’s been a fantastic experience and people are always so surprised that the Red Cross does this. To me, it’s such a valuable service that’s really changed people’s lives. It’s really special to be able to work with clients – whether it’s providing a reconnection or just giving closure through knowing what happened. People’s lives are changed and I just appreciate being a part of the Red Cross for it.